Alex Cole-Hamilton presses Scottish Government on measures to tackle violence against women and girls

After Sarah Everard’s murder in March, women across the country were in shock and expressed their anger. So many took to social media to talk about how they had felt frightened when they were out and about.

I recorded a video at the time recounting my experience of being threatened by a man, which is pretty minor in the scheme of things, but it’s typical of the sort of thing women have to put up with:

We had a discussion amongst Scottish Lib Dem Women about what we could do to turn our anger into positive change that would make women safer outside, at home, at school and work. Because this is so wide-ranging, we came up with the idea of a Commission to look at ways of preventing violence against women and girls in all its forms which would report in the first year of the new Scottish Parliament.

These issues cut across the whole of Government, from education (over 90% of girls experience sexism and being sent unwanted explicit images), to housing (helping those in the sector identify and support victims of domestic abuse and help them stay in their own homes if it is safe for them to do so, from justice given the pitiful number of successful rape prosecutions to social security to tackle poverty (they could start by retaining the extra £20 per week for Universal Credit and getting rid of the wicked two child limit and rape clause) and employment to tackle sexual harassment at work. And you can add in planning to think about how you create safer communities. You need joined up thinking to bring all those strands together into a proper strategy.

We felt that this would be a way of signalling to women that we took their concerns seriously. It would also keep the issue high on the agenda. It seems to have disappeared at the moment and I’d rather it reappeared because we were doing something about it rather than more tragic events.

In the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder, really useful conversations were being had in homes across the country, with a greater understanding of how life was for women. Wendy Chamberlain described her daughter telling her son that she was being cat-called on a Sunday radio show.

So we thought of this one day and at 6:45 the next morning, I was on Good Morning Scotland (Scotland’s better version of the Today programme) talking about it. That afternoon, Liam McArthur, our Justice spokesperson, asked then Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf what he thought of the idea. I was surprised at his response, given that I had no idea he knew who I was:

I would certainly be willing to explore that idea with an open mind. I heard Liberal Democrat Caron Lindsay on this morning’s “Good Morning Scotland”. I have often found her to be a very considerate and thoughtful individual, and certainly the idea of a commission that has been presented by Liam McArthur is something that I would be happy to explore.

In some respects, of course, we have to accept that, although legislation can play its part, it is not the only answer. We have heard from Shona Robison and others today that education is clearly a part of what is needed. A commission might help to bring all the strands of work together. I will certainly engage with Liam McArthur and anybody else directly on any proposals that they have to tackle the scourge of men’s violence against women.

Six months on, Humza has moved on to be Cabinet Secretary for Health and Shona Robison is now the minister responsible. Alex Cole-Hamilton revisited the idea of a Commission this week as domestic abuse figures soared and was disappointed when Shona Robison dismissed the idea.

You can watch the exchange here.

Alex said:

Domestic abuse is a hideous, controlling, and life-threatening crime. Too many people experience it in their homes, where they are supposed to be safest, and it is time to take a firm stand and demand urgent measures.

In the past the Scottish Government has expressed an openness to work with us in exploring a commission which would bring together all the different strands of work related to violence against women. I believe that this expert commission should be tasked with reporting back to Parliament with recommendations within a year.

I am disappointed that the new Cabinet Secretary rejected these proposals today. Domestic abuse figures are trending in the wrong direction so simply relying on what is being done already risks letting vulnerable people down.

It annoys me that when independence is the issue they can find money to pay civil servants to make the preparations for a referendum, but they can’t put the same energy into helping half the population deal with the abuse and harassment we face all too often. I do hope that Shona Robison reconsiders.

Next Monday, Autumn Conference will debate a comprehensive and detailed motion calling for action across government to prevent violence against women and girls, including “an independent commission on ‘Ending Violence
Against Women and Girls’ for ongoing, sustainable accountability
and progress in domestic and global efforts.” You can read the full motion here on page 117.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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